Aaron Shenk works at Mennonite Mission Network as the budget finance manager and enjoys pottery as a hobby. This originally appeared on Mission Network Beyond blog.
My hobby of working with clay began at an early age. When I was 7 or 8 years old, my dad, who had recently joined the staff as the Bible teacher at Bethany Christian Schools, in Goshen, Ind., developed a friendship with the art teacher. There were times when my dad would work at the school on throwing pottery, and I would go along and work on my skills as well. Throughout high school and college, I developed this hobby that I continue to feel passionate about today.
One of the things that I love about pottery is that it’s like developing a relationship. The focus that it requires, as well as the many different steps in the process, are necessary for the final product. A piece cannot be made from start to finish in one day, but rather requires time and patience to be done correctly.
In the first stage of making a pot, you have to wedge the clay, which, while a necessary step, is often hard work, and not the easiest task. In some of the relationships I have started, the first stages haven’t been the easiest, and I often felt I had to put myself out on a limb, which, similar to wedging, was not the easiest, but an important step in developing that friendship.
The next stage in the process involves throwing the pot on the wheel and provides a stage for creativity as you work the clay and determine what you want the piece to look like and for what purpose you hope it will serve. I would compare this step to the stage of a relationship where you are soaking up the other’s ideas and finding your commonalities. It provides mutual energy back and forth and often is a lot of fun. The interests you find together will help determine the kinds of things that will define your relationship and what it will represent.
After the piece has dried for a while, you must then trim off some clay on the base to provide a solid foundation for the pot to sit on. There have been times in relationships where after the initial exciting stage, you realize that there are some differences, and you work to reconcile these with each other in order to make sure they will not create problems in the future. There are differences in many of my relationships, but I’ve found that naming these things can help us address them when they cause rifts in our interactions.
The final stages of the process involve firing the clay once, then glazing, and finally firing a second time. These steps require time and patience as it cannot be done all at once. As relationships enter a mature phase, I feel that they require patience and grace to ensure that they will be long-lasting and create an atmosphere of mutual respect. The beauty that comes out of a pot, and a relationship, often forms during this time period and can affect how someone feels when they look at or use a pot, or see the way that two people are interacting with one another.
Once the piece is pulled out of the kiln for the second time, it is ready to be used.
As I have developed from a child to a young adult, I have been shaped by many relationships. The life cycle of these personal relationships can be likened to the steps in making a piece of pottery. In the way that my dad found a friend and in turn allowed me an opportunity to find my own interest in pottery, it seems that a lot of times who you meet and where you develop relationships can happen without expectation. Some of my closest friends to this day were formed because my parents chose to attend a certain church when I was at a young age, which in turn led me to attending Bethany Christian Schools and Goshen College, where I further enriched these friendships and developed other close friends.
With care, a piece of pottery can last for many years. There are pieces that I have made that I will use for many years to come. Similarly, there are many relationships that I have formed that have gone through each of these steps and will last for many years as well. Just like I can use a mug to drink my morning coffee, they provide energy for me in all aspects of my life.
Image: Aaron Shenk’s pottery. Photo provided.
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